Rescue helicopter flyover a valued part of Anzac Day service

With former Defence Force members in their crew, acknowledging Anzac Day with a Dawn Service flyover means a lot to the Trust Tairāwhiti Eastland Rescue Helicopter team.

The Trust Tairāwhiti Eastland Rescue Helicopter flyover has become a tradition that is a valued part of the annual Dawn Service, says RSA Anzac Day convener Paul Bayly.

“Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, when very few could go to the service, the helicopter flew over the cemetery and up the river past the Cenotaph to make sure the day was acknowledged,” Mr
Bayly said.

“It has become a very important part of our service and we really appreciate it.”

Pilot James Easterbrook recalls the eeriness of that pandemic-era flyover, when many locals stood outside their homes in lieu of attending a public event.

“There is not a lot of visibility at that time of the morning but we were mindful of all those people standing out on the street – apparently some were even playing bagpipes – so it was great to be able to acknowledge them all,” he says;

“And the feedback was that everybody enjoyed our flyover, so that was awesome.”

For tomorrow’s Dawn Service – marking 100 years since Gisborne Cenotaph was unveiled in 1923 – the Rescue Helicopter team will swoop up the Waimata River in time for a 6am arrival over the Cenotaph, at the confluence of the Waimata, Taruheru and Turanganui rivers. Tomorrow’s Anzac Day flyover will be paid for from the Eastland Helicopter Rescue Trust budget, rather than from operational funds, and trust chair Patrick Willock says it’s an important part of community engagement.

“With the amount of fundraising required to keep the helicopter in the air we do have to think about every dollar we spend,” he says.

“Our feeling in this case was that the Anzac Day service is important to our community and, as such, it’s important to us.”

If the flyover is not derailed by an emergency call-out, the on board team will include crewman Kelley Waite, who served in the Royal New Zealand Air Force for 16 years before joining the rescue
helicopter industry.

It won’t be the first time Ms Waite has been on board for the Anzac Day flyover, but it will be the first time she can attend the post-service breakfast.

“Because we are still on the 12-hour shift cycle set up after Cyclone Gabrielle, I will be able to knock-off after the flyover and head to the Returned Services Association to join in,” says crewman
Kelley Waite.

“It’s always been a bit of a let-down not to be able to go, so this is an extra special year.”

After her years of service Ms Waite has a good crop of medals to wear to the breakfast and they’ll be pinned on the left side (to show she earned them) rather than the right (where non-service people wear medals earned by members of their whanau).

“It feels really important to continue recognising those who made sacrifices in the Gallipoli campaign, and many campaigns after,” she says.

“For me, it’s worth remembering that we would be a very different nation if those sacrifices had not been made.”

Caption: Participants in tomorrow’s Anzac Day Dawn Service will gather from 5am at Gisborne’s War Memorial Theatre. Dawn Services are also being held at Tokomaru Bay, Tolaga Bay, Ruatoria, Tikitiki, Te Araroa and Te Karaka, while Muriwai will host a 10am service.